I wasn’t allowed to date until I was sixteen. My parents made that very clear starting very young. You know what they say about forbidden fruit. Dating became this huge, super important thing that just got built up in my head. Anyone I knew pre-sixteen who had a boyfriend seemed Godlike in my eyes. They were cool. I was not. Because I followed the rule,
Aside from a “boyfriend” at 12 (sorry mom and dad) who blandly texted me good morning and once, during Kansas’ version of sex-ed claimed that the solution to unplanned pregnancy was, and I quote, “coat hanger.” Everyone in the classroom laughed. I thought he was edgy. Until he danced with another girl at the eighth-grade formal. I think he’s married now. Let’s hope all of their pregnancies are planned.
And now, at 22, considering the past few years of my life, I think people have a grave misconception of me. I remember doing this TikTok live and someone commented that I’d be the type of person to “laugh and decline a prom-posal in high school.” But let’s get this one thing clear. I was never getting prom-posals. I wasn’t getting asked out, even after sixteen.
I got braces and glasses in the SAME WEEK at like eight. I was in the “gifted and talented” class that at one point had four kids (I remember thinking to myself that year (1st grade), ‘yeah, this can’t be good for my social skills’), one of which wanted to be a gynecologist at a shockingly young age. His parents would make him tell people, proudly. I think he’s an engineer now.
And so, doing ballet, and reading too many books, and being the only brown girl in so many spaces starting so young, left this awkwardness in me that sort of seeped itself in. By the time I won Miss Teen USA, the awkwardness (and perpetual shame?) had sort of soaked through my whole being. And in college, I feel like I really leaned into the whole pageant thing. I really leaned into who I felt like Miss Teen USA should be and I was left with a sort of shell of myself. (I can’t go too deep into this because I need to have a full novel, sorry). But TLDR, I found myself in a relationship at eighteen. The sort of relationship every eighteen-year-old girl finds herself in. Sweet, but probably co-dependent. Safe, yet restraining. And we were together for four years. And now we are not.
And so, I’m a single 22-year-old in New York. Woohoo! But don’t cheer yet. You might cheer at some point as/if I continue this column (hold me accountable guys, sharing this is scary and I get date burnout, so I’m going to need some encouragement, okay??), but you might cry too. Because I still find dating really bittersweet. Because, in my head, I still have one titular “ex.” And my relationship ended in an airport goodbye. And it probably should’ve ended much earlier with a little more anger on my part. Yet, I’m left with a lot of love and only a little anger. And when you cared about someone that deeply for that long and were left with complicated feelings, it’s hard to sit across the table from a stranger who just hours ago was a few photos and prompts on a phone.
This is not an advice column. Nor will it be. I think dating advice is dumb. I think it teaches people to hide who they really are. I want to be myself as much as I can on every date. I want anyone to know exactly what they’re dealing with. Hell, I want to be a hyperbolic version of myself. Then maybe I’ll really find the right one. I want to think that there is a singular right one out there. I’m scared sometimes that maybe my “ex” was the right one.
But I refuse to believe that the right one does the things that made it to where my relationship should’ve ended long before the airport.
And a couple months ago, I sat at an Italian restaurant across from this guy who referred to himself as a “little somber generally.” Potentially because his father had told him at about eight that God wasn’t real. I asked if his parents had let him believe in Santa Claus. They had.
He had a titular “ex” too. Yes, he brought up an ex on a first date. No, I didn’t mind. I like when people are honest. I wish my ex had just been honest. And the guy at the Italian restaurant liked Salavador Dali, and Rene Magritte, and had read The Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut. “He loved Kurt Vonnegut,” he said. But he didn’t light up about Sirens of Titan the way I light up when I talk about it. And this led me to believe that we weren’t compatible. And that’s the thing about dating. That’s the thing about how I date. I can never walk away from a date thinking a person is just good or bad because I think that’s reductive and not fair. And I just love people. I love stories. I love art. I love other people’s minds. I would literally crawl into someone else’s consciousness if I could, so I don’t have to be alone in mine as much (and this is why I get nervous for my future partner lol). And I always connect better with people who are artists or who can at least appreciate art, which is why I’m going to name each person after an artist that they like and/or remind me of.
And Mr. Vonnegut walked me home from the restaurant. We made vague plans to maybe go to the Met to see some Dali. I took embarrassingly long to text him back over the next few days. And, as things often do in the choice-paralysis-laden world of online dating and online dating in New York specifically, it fizzled.
And I lit up for Sirens of Titan and he lit up for The Lovers. And we were probably not meant to be. But oh well.
It is what it is.